There has been much debate around our recent Olympic sojourn – just 2, though undoubtedly proud, medals from 120 athletes representing 1.2 billion people – 1 athlete for every 10 million citizens. Contrast this to Great Britain that had one Olympic contestant for every 175,000 citizens or USA where 40% of their athletes returned from Rio with a medal around their neck. Why can’t India have more athletes competing and winning and who is responsible for the state of sports in the country?

  1. The Corporate Sector

Even with the sordid tales of our athletes roughing it out with their equipment, preparation and travel, it’s surprising that corporates don’t pitch in more. The top 3 Indian airlines average $2 billion annually in operating expenses – it would cost less than $500,000 to sponsor business class seats or spare a jet to charter our athletes. $1 billion was spent in 2014-15 by ~400 companies on CSR activities as per mandatory policies – 0.05% of this could have made helped them prepare much better. Hundreds of crores are spent to secure endorsements from cricketers and celebrities – sponsoring 120 kits for Olympic athletes would be a rounding error in most marketing budgets. Why aren’t CEOs, Marketing Directors and CSR Heads doing more? Dealing with the bureaucracy to execute such initiatives is one likely reason – doing good in the country is sometimes a lot more difficult than doing bad. Also, how does one justify such sponsorships to shareholders when one might not even get a branding opportunity in return? Until executives regard ROI to be Return on India, and not just Return on Investment, corporates apathy will continue.

  1. The System

While corporates can address tactical issues, the high roller in this blame game and biggest stakeholder is undoubtedly the system. Corruption negatively impacts the country in all spheres including sports, as demonstrated below.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 5.45.17 PM

Each point represents a country, ranked on the Y-axis basis its perceived level of corruption (2015/14 TI Corruption Perceptions Index) and on the X-axis basis its Olympic performance (number of winning athletes in Rio, medal standings, athletes competing and London ‘12 results). There is a reasonably strong correlation between corruption and performance (~0.4+ for the statistically inclined) and the more transparent the country, the better it seems to do. So UK, Germany, USA, Japan etc are in the top right – low corruption and lots of medals – and bastions of corruption languish empty handed in the bottom-left. There are exceptions like China and Russia, very corrupt yet outperforming, but ironically it’s their questionable practices that contribute to this outcome. India is middle of the pack when it comes to lack of transparency and Olympic performance; to climb the podium more often, we probably need to first climb up this chart.

  1. All of us

I recently had a football birthday party for my 8-year-old son and the ground was booked, cake ordered and playlist ready. Being the fag end of Mumbai monsoons, it started raining and cancellations starting coming in – parents politely regretting for various reasons. The few expat parents on the other hand were upbeat; one even took his son to the ground hours early so as to not miss the opportunity of playing in the rains. While an anecdotal generalization, it somewhat illustrates our attitude to sports – we would rather that our kids stay dry and not risk catching a cold, prepare for exams and become the clichéd doctors and engineers. Which is unfortunate since competing in sports happens to be a fundamental pre-requisite for winning in them.

So this is where we are – grappling with passive corporates, a corrupt system and an unenthusiastic disposition to sports. The entire country should therefore be held responsible for our overall lack of performance. And unfortunately, that is why it will be difficult to make any significant changes. Because whether it is sports or most events in life – when everyone is responsible, no one is accountable…..